In a November 14 piece for the Daily Beast, Kimberly Dozier circumnavigates Jose Rodriguez’s recommendation that the CIA be allowed to redeploy methods of “enhanced interrogation” in the global war on terror. Citing the legislative record and drawing on the words of a university professor, the President and President-Elect, and officials from the CIA, ACLU, and International Red Cross, she sizes up the chances that Rodriguez, the former head of clandestine services for the CIA, will be (or should be) satisfied in this connection.
Two angles on this story I find particularly interesting. The first concerns the statement by former CIA head (and “Never-Trumper”) Michael Hayden that the agency would be disinclined to resume the practice, not because they disown (or should disown) their earlier behavior, but because they feel betrayed by a government whose directives they followed in good faith. They went out on a sanctioned limb in service to their county, only to have it sawed off by leaders who second-guessed their actions.
Of course, “I was just following orders” and “I had official clearance” are notoriously weak, even contemptible, justifications when the behavior is heinous. These excuses didn’t fly at the Nuremberg Tribunals. But when the deeds in question may be licit in certain circumstances (a case I’ve argued in Providence) or when the policies may need review but were not manifestly ridiculous or wicked at the time, it seems treacherous to turn on those who committed them under authority.
Is this connection, I think of the “Ferguson Effect” and the “Freddie Gray Effect.” The first concerned the fatal shooting of a black teenager in the St. Louis area, and the other concerned the death of a black man in a Baltimore police van. Rioting ensued in both instances, as did subsequent exoneration of the policemen—Darren Wilson in Ferguson and Officers Goodson, Porter, Nero, Miller, White, and Rice in Baltimore. Though these cops were set free, their colleagues took notice of the litigation, humiliation, and defenestration, which resulted in a drop in arrests and a spike in homicides. Some residents in afflicted areas who were initially supportive of the protests came to regret the furor raised over what proved to be less-than-compelling cases. Makes you want to ask, “Are you happy now?” One hopes such disastrous lessons in unintended consequence won’t be re-learned when, say, an attack which would have been preventable under Bush-era protocols impacts his gainsayers.
The second angle concerns “ugly visuals,” the reason Rodriguez destroyed some al Qaeda interrogation video tapes. Well, certainly, there is a place for shocking images. I think, for instance, of photos featuring fetuses scalded and torn asunder by “health care providers” (aka abortionists). On the other hand, I think of two episodes germane to my military preparedness, the first outside a tear gas tent at Ft. Sill, the second on an exercise field at Ft. Benning. In the earlier instance, we’d been told to remove our gas masks in a CS environment and sing the “Star Spangled Banner” or something like that. It didn’t take long for us to run out gagging, some of the soldiers tossing their breakfasts. In the latter, we’d been herded at dawn before an NCO who put us through a series of exhausting calisthenics, and all we could manage were dry heaves—gagging, drooling, and tearing up in the pre-breakfast twilight. (That didn’t stop us from shouting out with false bravado, “More PT, First Sergeant!” at every pause in the drill.)
A good video team could build a 60 Minutes segment around the “torture” of our boys in uniform, and the furor would be considerable…and utterly predictable in the Kingdom of Sensitivity, where we now reside. “Oh, yes, we recognize the need for rigorous training, but do you really have do it just that way?” And so the rough work of boot camp can be sanded into something smoother to please the tender spectators. Then, on one distant day, when our men (and women in their midst) can’t quite manage a Normandy or Iwo Jima, we come back to the peanut gallery: “Are you happy now?”
You don’t have to join the army to see the effect of disturbing sights subverting truth and goodness. As a pastor, I saw them when I took an arguably biblical position on radioactive issues (e.g., divorce and remarriage; gender complementarianism; sects), and someone would take tearful offense. Once Sister or Brother So-and-So was visibly wounded, the “Christlike” thing for friends to do was to huddle about them with indignant commiseration and then glance daggers at the pastor from time to time. Check and mate. Before long, the pastor flinches when he comes to a demanding passage, and looks for ways to offer ingratiating sermonettes. Are you happy now?
Too often, in too many places, disturbing visuals triumph over hard but salubrious truth. This is never a cause to be happy, and the lesson of unintended consequence will always be felt. When it happens in matters of national security, the unhappy consequences might involve running for our lives as our buildings topple.
Mark Coppenger is a Professor of Christian Apologetics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also managing editor of the online Kairos Journal. He has authored, edited, or contributed to numerous books and his articles appeared in venues such as Teaching Philosophy, Touchstone, American Spectator, Criswell Review, Reformation and Revival, USA Today, and Christian Scholar’s Review. He is a retired infantry officer.
Photo Credit: A sailor assigned to the Navy Expeditionary Guard Battalion at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay stands watch over a cell block in the detention facility’s Camp 6 while detainees look through magazines and books, March 30, 2010. U.S. Navy photo by Joshua Nistas.